Juan Uribe's solo homer with two outs in the eighth inning and seven innings of shutout relief by their bullpen led the San Francisco Giants to a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, advancing the Cinderella team to the World Series.
The box score will reflect that Ryan Howard, the RBI machine of so many past big games, looked at a 3-2 offering by Giants closer Brian Wilson with two men on and two outs in the ninth to close the 2010 NLCS. As Howard looked on in stunned disbelief, so did the sellout crowd, all of Phillies Nation and most of the baseball world.
The Giants were not supposed to be in the playoffs; they did not get the memo.
They certainly were not supposed to advance to the NLCS; they never got around to reading that memo.
Once in the NLCS, they were not supposed to take a 3-1 lead over the prohibitively favored Phillies; they chose to ignore that as well.
And when the Phillies forced a Game 6 and presumably a Game 7 in front of their raucous hometown fans, the Giants were supposed to roll over. The "Left Coast" upstarts also disregarded that nugget of conventional wisdom.
When history reviews the 2010 NLCS, they may see the Bay Area bunch as one of destiny's darlings. Or, history may see the series as a case of the Phillies team being overconfident.
Perhaps in hindsight, manager Bruce Bochy will get credit for leading a team of has-beens, retreads and (supposedly) not quite ready-for-prime-time players (including a great young catcher in the making in Buster Posey) past a Phillies team that was well positioned to win it all.
Indeed Bochy, in the jubilant visitors' clubhouse, was quoted as saying, "We had such a diversity of contributions from everybody. Not bad for a bunch of castoffs and misfits."
One of those castoffs was shortstop/third baseman Juan Uribe, who compiled only a .214 batting average in the series but hit the walkoff sacrifice fly to win Game 4. Uribe ambled to the plate in the top of the eight with two outs, facing Phils reliever Ryan Madson, who had been absolutely dominant in the postseason.
Uribe promptly took an outside pitch to the opposite field, driving it just over the right field fence. The drive broke the 2-2 deadlock and stood up as the final margin of victory.
The Uribe homer would send a team featuring players such as Cody "Babe" Ross (awarded the NLCS MVP), and Brian Wilson, a reliever who dyes his beard black and makes quirky seem uptight, into the World Series to face the Yankees. Actually, make that the Texas Rangers, who will be making their first appearance in the Fall Classic. The Giants? They'll be trying to win their first title since 1954, when they played in the Polo Grounds of New York City.
There will be plenty of time to preview a World Series matchup that Fox-TV did not want to see. And there will be plenty of time in the days and weeks to come for the Phillies to analyze what went wrong, and what to do about certain roster spots (and salary decisions) that they will soon be facing.
As for the game itself, it appeared to all that the Phillies might be ready to put a whooping on the Giants, who brought a talented but shaky lefty Jonathan Sanchez to the mound. The Phillies promptly rode a walk, three hits and a sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead in the first. In retrospect, it could have been more, but a 2-0 lead with Roy Oswalt on the mound and a crazed crowd imploring it to the finish line seemed like it would be enough at the time.
After SF tied the game in the top of the third, the Phillies had ample opportunity to take the lead back in the bottom of the inning. Sanchez gave Placido Polanco a free pass before plunking Utley in the upper back to put the first two runners on. What followed immediately after was a mixture of the bizarre and the all-too-familiar for Phillies fans.
Utley, on his way to first, scooped up the offending baseball that had bounced off his back, and gave it an underhand lob in the general vicinity of a frustrated Sanchez, who was nearing an implosion. Words were exchanged by the two, and sooner or later there was a bench-clearing something or other that featured the usual posturing.
When order was restored, Bochy turned to his bullpen, which turned out to be a masterful move. In came lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt who promptly fanned Ryan Howard, induced Jayson Werth to hit a can of corn to center, and retired Victorino on a weak grounder to first. Momentum shift back to the Giants.
On the other side of the hill, starter Roy Oswalt was not as dynamic as he had been in Game 2, but yielded only two runs (just one was earned) on nine hits and no walks in his six innings of solid work. Usually, that would be enough to earn a victory with his new team, a team that boasted one of the best offenses in baseball the last several years.
For those who have been watching the Phillies all year, they observed that their team, despite scoring the second most runs in the league, had an erratic lineup that left lots of runners in scoring position.a single run at all after the first inning, despite:
- runners on first and second, no outs in the third
- bases loaded, two outs in the fifth
- man on third, one out in the sixth
- first and second, one out in the eighth
A lot of the focus for the loss will naturally be trained on Howard, who is literally and figuratively a big target. Howard, the top RBI in baseball the last five years, somehow did not drive in a single run in his nine-game postseason and only scored one.
Some of this was bad luck as Howard hit a team-high .318 in the series. The counter point to that was that the Big Piece struck out 12 times in the six game series. Ouch!
Game 6 was a microcosm of Howard's postseason. He singled with the speedy Utley on second in the first, although with one out, Utley could not get a good jump on the ball (not his fault) that fell just in front of left fielder Pat Burrell.
In the fifth, Howard doubled to the left-center gap, with Rollins on first and two outs. A fortuitous carom to center fielder Andres Torres, who played it perfectly with a quick relay throw to shortstop Edgar Renteria, kept the normally speedy Rollins chained to third base.
After whiffing again in the seventh, Howard had a chance to redeem himself in the bottom of the ninth with two men on and his team down by just one run. The same man who had uttered the famous "Just get me to the plate, boys" just last year before delivering a huge extra-base hit to carry the Phils to a come-from-behind Game 4 win in Colorado did not have the same magic this evening.
Working the count to 3-2, the still-imposing slugger looked at the 3-2 low-and-away cut fastball from Wilson and pleaded to the baseball gods (and home plate umpire Tom Hallion) for it to be ball four. It appeared to catch the corner, and no such magic or luck was rendered.
As a stunned Citizens Bank Park crowd along with millions of other Phillies fans can now attest, Howard's plea (and with it, the Fightins entry to its third consecutive World Series) was denied.
Silence, just stunned silence strangled Phillies Nation, as that mostly no-name underdog team from the Left Coast started a wild party on their home turf of South Philly.